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Cambridge Flu Clinic & Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) Exercise

Cambridge Flu Clinic & Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) Exercise

What is Operation Potter?

(No, not Harry.)
Operation Potter is the code name for the full-scale Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS) Exercise that the Cambridge Public Health Department conducted Saturday, November 8 at the Tobin School.

Why did the Cambridge Public Health Department conduct a full-scale EDS? exercise?

Local health departments need to be prepared to dispense mass vaccines or medications in response to a large-scale public health threat such as a flu pandemic or bioterrorist attack.

Over the past several years the Cambridge Public Health Department has tested its response capability and participated in similar exercises in neighboring towns. Operation Potter was the first opportunity for city departments (e.g., police, fire, public works, human services, school, traffic and parking) and Professional Ambulance to work with the health department coordinated and cooperative simulated health emergency response.

What is an emergency dispensing site?

Community-based Emergency Dispensing Sites administer vaccines or dispense medication in response to infectious disease outbreaks -- this could include a single case of hepatitis A in a food handler, multiple cases of meningitis in a school, an influenza pandemic, or bioterrorist attack involving thousands of people.

Emergency Dispensing Sites are:

  • Are set up with only one day's notice.
  • Provide initial vaccination or medication for the affected population.
  • Must be flexible enough to adjust to the scope of the event.

While most events requiring EDS will be relatively controlled and localized, a worst-case scenario may require a site to treat 80% of the population within two days; and the remaining 20% of the population the following day.

What did the public health department hope to learn from this exercise?

This “real life” exercise will an opportunity for the department to:

  • Test the Cambridge Emergency Dispensing plan.
  • Manage a large number of people seeking vaccination.
  • Integrate Medical Reserve Corps volunteers into an emergency dispensing scenario.(The Region 4b Medical Reserve Corps volunteers serve Cambridge and 26 other communities. In a disaster situation, MRC volunteers might be called upon to deliver medical care, interpret for individuals who do not speak English, or provide administrative support.)
  • Integrate other first responders (ambulance, fire, police) into a scenario that uses an Incident Command System.

What organizations and agencies were represented at Operation Potter?

Cambridge Public Health Department, Cambridge Police Department, Cambridge Fire Department, the Cambridge Public Schools, the Cambridge Department of Public Works, Cambridge Traffic and Parking, and Professional Ambulance

What was unique about this event?

This was the largest flu clinic ever held in Cambridge, and the first full-scale public health exercise using incident command and involving city partners and incorporating the Medical Reserve Corps.


Here's a question you did not ask.

How did the city choose the site for this event?

The Tobin School is in West Cambridge. It is in one of the least dense, most affluent, most mobile, and probably whitest areas of Cambridge.

It seems logical that a larger number of people who are less likely to be able to get this service on their own might have been served if any of a number of other locations were used.

Great question.
Cambridge Public Health Nursing targets the majority of our flu clinics to seniors and other vulnerable populations such as the homeless. These clinics are done throughout Cambridge, in Senior Centers, housing developments, and schools. You can view the full calendar at our website
When we planned this big one, we weren't sure it was going to work, and we didn't want to negatively impact our regular flu clinics, so we consolidated several West Cambridge flu clinics into one. Instead of doing them at Mount Auburn Hospital, Haggarty School, Graham and Parks School and Tobin, we did just one at the Tobin. We wanted to run the "experiment" of a huge flu clinic without disrupting what we already felt was tried and true. We also took into account the layout of the Tobin school, which was ideal for our first try.
There are six or seven designated sites located in public schools throughout Cambridge for dispensing in the event of a public health emergency. Now that we've had our first successful trial, we will plan the next one for a different area.
Louise Rice, Senior Director, Public Health Nursing